Crime & Punishment in 2014

Trilogies seem to be all the rage these days. Did a book a fraction of the length of The Lord of The Rings trilogy really need to be bisected into a bloated three-part epic about a band of short-statured heroes on a quest to slay a dragon? Probably not but it will be at least another year before we see the end of the newly expanded Hobbit theatrical release. So what to do with this, the fourth in my annual Crime & Punishment retrospective? A prologue seems out of place…does anyone really want to hear my predictions for criminal justice in 2010? An appendix – much like the vestigial human organ of the same name – lacks any purpose beyond occasionally bursting into a pool of infectious toxins poisoning the predictions of the last three years. Who knows? Maybe I’m on my way towards a Harry Potter-esque heptology; we’ll know after four more installments. In the meantime Dear Reader, I invite you to enjoy my list of the hottest trends to watch for in criminal justice in 2014.

Getting ‘Tougher’ on Crime

Despite numerous setbacks in the courts during 2013 – mandatory minimum sentences overturned, “Insite” harm reduction drug treatment facilities getting constitutional protection, and the wholesale evisceration of Canada’s prostitution laws – the Federal Tories have not wavered a single inch in continuing to pursue a flawed yet populist approach to crime management. With consultations having commenced in mid-2013 and an election looming in 2015, it’s a safe bet that the much touted Victims’ Bill of Rights will hit the legislative agenda in 2014.

Little is known about the contents of the legislation though the Government’s stated goal is to enhance the role of victims in Criminal Justice. If history is any guide, it will include a host of measures likely to be challenged in the coming years.

Getting Smart on Crime

While the Feds continue to ratchet up the ‘get tough on crime’ rhetoric, defence lawyers will continue to fight back with a fresh slate of courtroom challenges. Recent pronouncements from the Ontario Court of Appeal overturning some mandatory minimum sentences and extraordinarily frank outbursts from some trial judges on the madness of mandatory victim fine surcharges (often levied against the homeless, destitute and mentally ill) have set the stage for what is sure to be an interesting 2014 docket. Among the many interesting flashpoints to watch for is a trilogy of appeals brought by the Government seeking to roll-back the use of enhanced credit for time spent in pre-trial custody (1.5:1).

The Supreme Court of Canada’s recent prostitution decision has lobbed a political time-bomb into Parliament giving the Government one year to come up with an alternative scheme to regulate the sale of sex across Canada.

Policing the Police

A veneer of tarnish has been affixed to the generally sterling reputation accorded to police officers. Many trace the breakdown to the shocking images of hundreds of riot-suited police marching through Toronto streets at the G20. The reality is more complex than that. Interactions between police and correctional officers in Ontario and across Canada are increasingly being viewed under a more critical light. Time and time again we have seen how ill-suited our trusted authorities are in dealing with the violently mentally ill. Yet there is some hope for a brighter future in 2014.

After hearing months of evidence, the jury in the Ashley Smith coroner’s inquest returned with a verdict of “homicide” and 104 recommendations for the future. Governments at all levels cannot allow these recommendations to be shunted aside or ignored – a genuine soul-searching exercise must be conducted predicated upon a good-faith desire to do better for the mentally ill who come into conflict with the law.

Moreover, police forces must take guidance from their own experiences. How often do we hear statements of exasperation following a murder as police are stymied by a community that refuses to cooperate with critical investigations? And yet, a refusal to cooperate has been the hallmark of police themselves when facing inquiry by the Special Investigations Unit. 2014 must mark the beginning of a new paradigm in police-SIU relations. With a new Director at the helm (respected and experienced former Crown Attorney, Tony Loparco), and new Supreme Court restrictions prohibiting witness officers from preparing lawyer-approved sanitized notes to SIU investigations, there is a historic opportunity for change.

Finally, Toronto Police have retained a prominent defence lawyer to review the legality of their controversial ‘carding’ practice. The findings of this review are likely to be highly influential of policing policy across Canada defining when and how police should be tracking contacts with members of the public.

A Picture is worth 1000 words…so what price, Video?

Nothing has changed the face of criminal justice in recent years as much as the massive explosion in ubiquitous video. Police stations, squad cars, psychiatric wards, prisons, and – perhaps most importantly – members of the public, are all armed with cameras. In case after case, video evidence has been vital in unmasking the behaviour of both suspected criminals and police impropriety.

Toronto’s police chief has publically requested – and been refused – over $300,000 to arm frontline officers with 184 new Tasers. While the efficacy and safety of such a move remains debatable, a far better investment for police forces across Canada would be to equip our uniformed police with lapel cameras. These cameras provide exceptionally powerful evidence on suspects transforming costly trials into guilty pleas or withdrawals as appropriate. They protect police against unfounded claims of brutality and misconduct while documenting those rare – but real – moments when officers cross the line.

The Year of the Trial

2014 promises to be a banner year for those addicted to the sordid but fascinating tales woven in trial courts both in Canada and around the world. The fireworks will begin in South Africa as Oscar Pistorius’ claim of mistaken self-defence is put to the test. September will see the commencement of the trial of Luka Magnotta in Montreal, accused in a gruesome killing laced with alleged acts of cannibalism. Dellen Millard – who grew up amidst a life of wealth and privilege – is accused in the as-yet unexplained death of Tim Bosma. With Millard held in custody without bail, the case is likely to see trial before the year is up. Two suspects arrested in connection with an alleged terror plot to derail Via Rail trains will also likely come to trial in Toronto late in the year. While a trial of any kind seems unlikely (at least for now) does anyone really think we’ve heard the last of Rob Ford?

Can 2014 top the antics of shenanigans of the year past? Happy New Year!

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